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Study: 4 in 10 patients fear pharma supply chain problems

Nov. 16, 2021
Study shows the pharmaceutical industry has a trust problem, but industry leaders say they’re trying to become more transparent.

Zebra Technologies Corporation released the findings of its Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Vision Study showing patients’ distrust of the medications they are receiving and segments within the pharmaceutical supply chain, including the entities who manufacture, distribute, prescribe and dispense those drugs. 43% fear more illness and/or death could result from contaminated or tainted medications without supply chain improvements.

Medication efficacy and safety are top of mind today with patients with three-in-four patients stating they are either somewhat or very concerned about the ineffectiveness of medication in helping with their condition or illness. And seven in ten are concerned about receiving:

—an improper dose due to labeling errors, and the harm it could potentially cause them

—stolen, contaminated, tainted, expired, or counterfeit medicines

—medications that were improperly handled/stored during transit and could have damage or diminished efficacy

Patients know a compromised supply chain puts medication quality and efficacy at risk and want better assurances their medications are safe and authentic. Nine in ten say it is somewhat or very important they can verify a medication is not counterfeit nor tampered with and confirm temperature sensitive medications have stayed within the prescribed range.

According to the survey, patients also expect drug manufacturers to disclose how their medications are manufactured/handled (81%) and transported/stored (82%). 80% say it’s also important to verify the sources of medication ingredients including the country of origin and local standards for the medication itself. In addition, 79% of those surveyed want to know the source of their medication is sustainable with confirmation the manufacturer is using techniques to protect the environment, animal welfare, human communities, and public health.

“These evolving patient demands will certainly be a wakeup call for pharmaceutical industry leaders who, for years, have been primarily focused on meeting regulatory standards,” said John Wirthlin, industry principal, manufacturing, transportation and logistics, Zebra Technologies. “Manufacturers, government agencies, pharmacies and healthcare providers must work together to win consumers’ trust in the supply chain.”

The study shows that the pharmaceutical industry must work harder to prove they are putting patients’ needs first if they want to earn consumer confidence and loyalty on a grand scale.

Some eight in ten patients agree government/regulatory agencies and pharmaceutical companies need to work better together to protect patients and ensure the medications they receive are safe and effective. And more than 40% of patients and pharmaceutical industry decision-makers say regulators, pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers are the ones most responsible for combating counterfeit, stolen and contaminated medications. Yet, the onus is being put on those who manufacture, dispense and administer medications to implement trustworthy safety protocols, with hospitals bearing the brunt of the responsibility in 57% of patients’ eyes.

“In a perfect world, potentially harmful drugs would never make it far enough downstream to be a concern for hospitals, pharmacies and other prescription-issuing entities,” Wirthlin added. “That’s why the Falsified Medicines Directive is now in full effect in the European Union, and the Food and Drug Administration is requiring product tracing systems to be in place by 2023 in the United States as part of the Drug Supply Chain Safety Act.”

The majority of pharmaceutical industry decision-makers (84%) feel they are prepared to comply with traceability and transparency mandates. Three-quarters confirm they have already deployed location services technology or plan to in the next year—a move which would improve production workflows and drug tracking, reduce shrink and tampering, and give patients the visibility and information they want.

The biggest challenge these leaders are facing is being able to make and move enough medications to meet patients’ needs. In addition to regulatory delays, industry decision-makers say they are also dealing with production limits, distribution and storage problems, shipping capacity constraints and transportation delays. Consequently, 92% plan to increase investments in pharmaceutical manufacturing and supply chain monitoring tools next year.

Problems at the point of sale...and beyond

Over three-quarters of patients surveyed say they have experienced issues either purchasing or taking medication in the past, with millennials (82%) remarkably reporting more issues than Boomers (61%). Millennials don’t tolerate mistakes, though, and are twice as likely as Boomers to change pharmacies to find one that can meet their needs. And 70% of all patients confirmed they have either changed prescribing providers, pharmacies, or medications in the past due to a poor experience.

Among patients experiencing problems, a severe side effect was among the top five issues. But it was not the most prevalent:

  1. Needed medication that was unavailable or out of stock (32%)
  2. Received only a partial amount due to unavailability at the time (29%)
  3. Found the same product at a lower price elsewhere (27%)
  4. Did not receive on time or when needed (22%)
  5. Experienced a severe side effect (21%)

A majority of patients’ lingering concerns center on medication affordability (76%) and shortages (73%). However, drug administrators are not off the hook for safety and efficacy. 85% of patients say all pharmacies need to monitor the medications dispensed, including mail-order pharmacies.